Michael Ball at the ECHO Arena Liverpool

~ Liverpool Echo- 25/09/09 by Catherine Jones ~

HE'S discarded Edna Turnblad's fat suit and the high heels - for now at least.

Because the lure of Hairspray has proved too strong for Michael Ball, who returns to the Olivier award-winning show for a UK tour in 2010 as part-time star (not in Liverpool alas) and associate producer.

In the meantime the singer is celebrating 25 years in showbusiness with a tour as himself.

It hardly seems five minutes ago the curly-haired showman was singing Lloyd Webber's Love Changes Everything and representing the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest with poppy air-puncher One Step Out of Time.

Both made an appearance on last night's set list, which took a roughly chronological journey through his career so far.

Ball last appeared at the ECHO arena last year as part of the Summer Pops, and admits he loves playing before a Liverpool crowd.

Looking dapper in a selection of dark suits and the odd sparkly tie, he was accompanied by a host of young show singers - among them Louise Dearman who appeared as Evita at the Empire during Capital of Culture year - in what was, in effect, a theatrical concert.

In fact, the addition of the five singers was an inspired decision, their close harmonies working well as both a backing and a partnership with the leading man.

There were a couple of minor issues with pitching early on, but things soon settled firmly into their stride as Ball's muscular vocal chords kicked into action, from an opening salvo of Kiss's I Was Made For Loving You to the closing To Dream the Impossible Dream (the song he sang at his first audition all those years ago).

While the audience's response suggested they were keen for musicals, the programme also embraced a handful of modern numbers including The Killers' Human and a funky Mercy à la Duffy.

There was also a cheeky rendition of wartime classic Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and the unusual inclusion of Supertramp's If Everyone Was Listening which was unexpectedly lovely.

Of course, musicals are what Michael Ball really does well and the songs came thick and fast, with a lung-bustingly powerful This Is The Moment from Jekyll and Hyde (Ball has a gear change in his voice where turbo charge kicks in) and a series of numbers from Jesus Christ Superstar, finishing with a Gethsemane which was brim full of passion.

9/10: can't stop the beat

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